Italy is on the right track in terms of labour inclusion for people with disabilities. At least in terms of numbers. However, some steps still need to be taken to ensure that these people are actually welcomed into companies, notwithstanding the problems introduced by the pandemic, as shown by the research carried out by the social enterprise Dynamo Academy on “Company climate in relation to diversity, equity and inclusion”, co-designed with Euromedia Research. This work drew on 800 interviews with employed Italian adults.
“Disability is a segment that deserves a lot of attention when it comes to diversity and inclusion”, explains Serena Porcari, president of Dynamo Academy, “and having experience with inclusion through Dynamo Camp (the first Recreational Therapy camp in Italy, hosting children and young people with serious or chronic illnesses free of charge), we wanted to focus on the inclusion of disabilities, whether permanent or temporary”.
The research showed that “Italy is an inclusive country by and large, yet people suffering from some kind of pathology or disability perceive a high level of isolation”, she points out.
The scenario in Italy
The big picture concerning companies, in fact, speaks of a non-racist (78.4%), non-sexist (73.9%), non-homophobic (73.9%) and respectful (72.6%) environment that does not discriminate on the basis of age (70%), along with a hospitable (70.4%), friendly (68.5%), supportive (61.1%), collaborative (62.9%), diverse (58.9%), cooperative (58.1%) and egalitarian (57.7%) climate. So everything is just fine? Not exactly. Two counter-trend figures have emerged: 39.7% of people with a disability or illness do not feel valued as individuals in their company and even 35.9% have thought about quitting their jobs because of incidents in which they felt excluded or judged. “A pair of indicators that clearly show us that, although in a context that is not negative on the whole, both in terms of people’s sensitivity and the good quality of the objectives set by our regulations, there is still a long way to go”, adds Porcari.
COVID has of course further complicated the picture. Before this terrible year, job placement for people with disabilities was in fact improving, albeit at a still very limited rate. The latest official data, from the ninth report of the Ministry of Labour and Inapp, which was updated in 2018, indeed pointed to growth in both registrations on the targeted employment list, which rose to 900,000 three years ago (now over a million), and in recruitment: no less than 62,000 in 2018.
While there are stark regional differences between Northern and Southern Italy, this report revealed the joint positive effect of new statutory obligations (hiring also in companies with between 15 and 35 employees), contribution incentives and the possibility of nominative calls provided by the Jobs Act.
It’s clear for Porcari, “the question now is what to do. The key, as always, lies in training and a joint commitment to the problem. At Dynamo Academy, we believe that in addition to workshops and seminars, one of the most powerful tools is direct experience. Every time we bring concrete and direct experiences of young people who have become men and women, dealing with life and work contexts despite having disabilities and pathologies, we have made a difference and changed people’s point of view”.
We need to move from theoretical training to practical training based on virtuous experiences. To do so, third sector entities should become training agents for enterprises.
Serena Porcari, president of Dynamo Academy
Vincenzo Falabella, national president of the Italian disability outreach federation FISH (Federazione Italiana per il Superamento dell’Handicap), also agrees that a lot has been done in terms of legislation and that the tools for the inclusion of people with disabilities already exist. “Years of substantial debates on active labour policies are still ongoing, calling for strategies to improve targeted employment, including strengthening recruitment incentives, rendering them automatic; defining guidelines for operating targeted employment services; and (as yet unpublished); the creation of a database of targeted employment; the incorporation of INAIL (National Institute for Insurance against Accidents at Work) into the network of targeted employment in the territory; the provision of public incentives to ensure that large companies have a technical unit that deals with individual workers with disabilities through personalised projects; the enhancement of the role of associations in the field of intermediation and tutoring.
Legislative provisions have already been adopted for many of the actions listed here, starting with Action Programmes I and II, yet they still have not been fully implemented. Recent stability laws increased aid to the disability employment fund and, as mentioned above, Legislative Decree 151/2015 contemplates reforms to revive the “spirit” of Law 68/99. These initiatives have been accompanied by measures such as the extension of the right to reversible part-time work already provided for cancer patients, a notice period of at least 90 days to withdraw from smartworking applied on a voluntary basis to people with disabilities and, more generally, developments in collective bargaining that are more attentive to disability issues”.
Yet, unfortunately, “COVID-19 has plunged many people into a state of deep concern, including in terms of employment, fears that are even greater among thousands of people with disabilities. The health, social and economic crisis has also put the issue of quality of work on the back burner, as the focus has shifted to ‘quantity’ of work. As part of its continuous monitoring the phenomenon for years, FISH conducted an extensive web-based survey between February and April 2020 (JobLab project) which, while highlighting the high skill levels of the interviewees (42% graduates and 50% women), reveals that one in three workers with disabilities claims to have higher training credentials than those needed to do their jobs“.
What should be done today? “We need to put the lives of people with disabilities back at the centre of support and assistance interventions, so that they become more inclusive. This will be the biggest challenge”, emphasises Falabella who, like Porcari, has no doubts about one aspect: “In times of increased job uncertainty and risk of exclusion from the world of work for people with disabilities, in terms of either lack of access or exclusion, it is essential to fully involve people with disabilities and their representative bodies in order to achieve full recognition of rights, social inclusion and equal opportunities for all citizens. We will only succeed in resuscitating the fortunes of our country by rising to this challenge”.